Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick skated more that three miles apiece at the U.S. speedskating trials Thursday night. When they were done, Davis was the winner – by the blink of an eye.
A mere two-hundredths of a second separated the two bitter rivals from the Turin Olympics, which sets them up for another memorable showdown in Vancouver.
This time, they’ll leave the animosity behind.
When Hedrick was on his way to the starting line for the 5,000 meters, Davis stuck out his right hand to offer encouragement. After Davis won the race, Hedrick veered onto the course with a congratulatory handshake.
“It’s always good to be good sports about it,” Davis said. “It was a great race. We were both competitive. Win or lose, I would have given him congratulations because he also had a great race.”
Hedrick feels the same way.
“It was fun,” he said. “I’m happy to be out here, happy to be a part of it with him. I want to continue to make steps so we can go and dominate again and have a lot of fun in Vancouver.”
They were two of biggest U.S. stars in Turin – Davis won gold and silver medals, Hedrick claimed one of each color – but that success was overshadowed by the animosity that bubbled over during the games. Hedrick thought Davis should have raced in the team pursuit. Davis said all along he didn’t want to take part in an event that might hurt his individual chances.
After Davis took silver and Hedrick won bronze in the 1,500, the two went at each other during a post-race news conference. Davis finally stormed out of the room, miffed that Hedrick shook his hand after he finished second but not after he became the first black athlete to claim an individual gold medal at the Winter Games in the 1,000.
All that seems behind them now.
They’ll never be best friends, but they seem content with the idea of pushing each other to do their best – because they know it makes them both go even faster.
“When he’s with me,” Hedrick said, “I usually go about five seconds faster than I do without him.”
Davis maintained a steady pace through most of the grueling race and held on at the end of the 12 1/2 laps to cross in 6 minutes, 30.90 seconds. Hedrick, who had skated one pair earlier, used his trademark finishing kick to cross the line in 6:30.92.
“Was that close enough for you?” Hedrick quipped to reporters in the tunnel beneath the Pettit National Ice Center. “If we had been paired together, it would have been beautiful. … We might have killed each other.”
The 6-foot-2 Davis was amazingly consistent, gobbling up the long straightaways with about six or seven strides. His last 10 laps were all within a second of each other, ranging from 30.66 to 31.50.
“I wasn’t (going higher) in my laps times like I would normally. That’s the first time I’ve had such a consistent race,” he said. “That’s really what saved me. If I had kept going up in laps, he would have been the victor tonight. It could have gone either way. I’m just happy it was a good, fun, competitive race that the fans enjoyed. It was awesome.”
Hedrick started out slower, then really turned it on with three laps to go.
His coach, former Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra, was encouraged by the response he got when he told Hedrick to turn on the speed near the end of the race.
“I looked at him like, ‘You’ve got to bring it down,”‘ Parra said. “He’s not done that in a while, so that’s good.”
Hedrick has been on the comeback trail since taking a long post-Olympic break, struggling to get back into shape and trying to overcome problems with his form.
This was a good first step. When it was done, Hedrick scooped up his 7-month-old daughter, Hadley, and took her for a spin around the ice.
“I’m real proud of her,” the father beamed. “It’s not all about skating anymore. It’s nice to have goals and stuff, but there’s more to life now.”
This meet is the first major step on the road to Vancouver – a skater must first qualify for the World Cup team, then an Olympic squad will be determined based on the result of those competitions.
Davis had the strongest night of anyone. He also posted the fastest time in the 1,000 – the event he won at Turin and holds a world record in. He’s already qualified in the 500, and still has another of his bread-and-butter events to go at these trials, the 1,500.
He hasn’t decided what he’ll skate in Vancouver, but his showing in the 5,000 will at least give him reason to consider putting it on his program.
“We’ll just have to see,” Davis said. “After a race like that, I feel like it can be one of my weapons. But you just never know. One weekend you can be good, the next weekend you can be bad. I’ll just take it one week at a time, one race at a time. Hopefully by the Olympics, I’ll have a real solid idea what I’m going there to do.”